Work out vs. Workout

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A reader who frequents health and fitness sites is disturbed by a lack of professional editing:

I’ve noticed that nobody, literally nobody makes a distinction between the noun “workout” and the verb “work out.” On every website, I find statements like “You have to workout three times a week.” So I was wondering if you could address that issue in one of your upcoming posts.

The reader is not exaggerating by much. Here are some examples from health and fitness sites and forums that I visited:

How often should you workout per week?
Should be: How often should you work out per week?

Where do you workout?
Should be: Where do you work out?

First, warm up with some joint rotations, in order to lubricate your joints and prepare them for the work out. 
Should be: First, warm up with some joint rotations, in order to lubricate your joints and prepare them for the workout

I’m a night person and prefer to workout at night.
Should be: I’m a night person and prefer to work out at night.

A few people have asked me what my work out routine is.
Should be: A few people have asked me what my workout routine is.

NOTE: One-word workout is also used as an adjective as in “my workout routine.”

One way to avoid the error is to look for words that precede the terms. The noun workout is often preceded by an article or an adjective: “the workout,” “my workout.” The verb is often used in its infinitive form, so the preceding to provides a useful clue.

Here are some examples of other noun/adjective/verb combinations that are confused in this way:

1. turnout (noun) / turn out (verb)
Big turn out for launch of new play area
Should be: Big turnout for launch of new play area

We had many parents turnout for the second high school informational meeting
Should be: We had many parents turn out for the second high school informational meeting.

2. washout (noun) / wash out (verb)
It is during this time that most recruits washout.
Should be: It is during this time that most recruits wash out.

Authorities concerned over wash out rate.
Should be: Authorities concerned over washout rate.

Three more such combos are: rollout/roll out, checkout/check out, and cutout /cut out. I’m sure you can think of more.

Here’s a mnemonic written in pig propaganda style (Animal Farm) that may help:
One word, Noun,
Two words, Verb.

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8 thoughts on “Work out vs. Workout”

  1. When I turn out the dog, I work out my problems.

    Thank you. Always a pleasure to read your posts.

  2. ‘NOTE: One-word workout is also used as an adjective as in “my workout routine.”’

    I never thought of nouns used that way as adjectives, but as attributive nouns. I mean, I see adjective is technically correct, but it doesn’t really tell the story.
    Welding equipment, tennis balls, flatware patterns….it just seems wrong to me to call those attributive uses adjectives.

    Aboutn the mnemonic…I guess I need to re-read Animal Farm.

  3. There are probably many more of these pairs of words, and just off the top of my head I can think of 2 more (aren’t you glad I don’t have a list of 40?): Followup/follow up, and login/log in. I see both of these confused very often and it always makes me recoil a bit.
    @ApK: Not sure if worth rereading Animal Farm. IIRC it wasn’t all that the first time, or the second time.

  4. Great post! Seeing writers mix up the one-word (or hyphenated) nouns & adjectives with the two-word verbs frustrates me no end. This rule can be applied to “-up” words, too, not just “-out” words – backup/back up, makeup/make up, etc.

    What I also find annoying are the seeminly arbitrary hyphenation rules for nouns and adjectives in these combos (for example, is it cutout or cut-out?)…but that may be a topic for another day. Guess that’s why we have style guides!

  5. @bluebird, I’m sorry to disagree with you this time. “Animal Farm” is a very important allegorical story for explaining how tyrants are ALLOWED to come to power (at that time, to address the socialist appeal and counter the Communist threat). The days of Stalin and Mao may seem long ago to younger folks, but not so long ago to those of us with some age or connection to relatives from that era. Even after Hitler, they were responsible for the deaths of many thousands of people. I don’t know if “Animal Farm” is even required reading any more for today’s students. That would be too bad, because the story frequently still comes to my mind, especially the parts about the doublespeak, and especially during our election seasons.

    The electorate seems less and less informed relying more on sound bites and personalities. The message is more of an appeal to what sounds to be compassionate (the socialist appeal) than to reason and the actual purpose and function of governance. Language manipulation and deliberate misinformation are rampant. The message of the “Animal Farm” story is as relevant today as it was when it was written. There are old oppressive regimes still inflicting misery (e.g., Cuba, South Korea) and new dictators elevated into power even as we speak. No one should believe that it will never happen again when a tyrannical regime will be allowed to come to power and abolish the liberties that people died fighting to establish. I got a little long-winded and a little off-topic, but my point is that the story probably IS well worth a re-read as a reminder.

  6. @Roberta: (continuing off-topic here, sorry) Not to give away my age, but I had to read Animal Farm somewhere probably in early high school, so we are talking like early 1970s. I vaguely remember it but always confuse it with 1984…we read them both around the same time. Believe me when I tell you that as a Jew, I am well aware of the Holocaust and what can happen when the social and political atmosphere is ripe for hell breaking loose. I went to a private Jewish school and not a day went by that we weren’t reminded of our heritage, our history, anti-Semitism, etc. These books are important and I’m not saying they’re not worth a read. I don’t think I’d recommend it to a 13-year-old; I think it would be more relevant and understandable to someone who is 16 or 17, getting ready to enter the adult world, start voting, etc. Personally I got enough of it then, continue celebrate my roots and heritage, remain well aware of it, and do not care to reread it. I got the message loud and clear the first time!

  7. correction/typo! miserable places = “Cuba, NORTH Korea (not South), etc.,” but everyone knew that already anyway.

  8. The message is more of an appeal to what sounds to be compassionate (the socialist appeal) than to reason and the actual purpose and function of governance.
    The logical fallacy of appeal to emotion (or compassion) is the very foundation of most political appeals. Rarely do public policies stand the scrutiny of rational examination. But it’s not just Stalins and Hitlers, nor only “old, repressive regimes” inflicting misery. The results of “soft” tyranny can be every bit as devastating, if less gruesome and more prosaic. Our own governance would doubtless be infinitely better if more people read and understood Animal Farm. If it is no longer required reading, that is probably quite intentional.

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